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Alexandra Zirkle


PhD Candidate, University of Chicago, Divinity School (2008-present)

Dissertation: “Modeling the Temple: The Politics of German-Jewish Scriptural Hermeneutics”

Advisor: Paul Mendes-Flohr. Committee Members: Michael Fishbane, James Robinson.


M.St. (with Distinction), University of Cambridge (2006-2008)

Study of Jewish-Christian Relations; St. Catharine’s College.

M.St. Dissertation: “Mendelssohn and Kant on Ritual” (with Distinction)


M.A. University of Chicago, M.A. Program in the Humanities (2005-2006)

MA Thesis: “Providence and Particularity: Mendelssohn’s Writings on History and Modern Jewish Historiography”


B.A. (with Honors) Brigham Young University, Department of History (2003-2005)


Duke University (2002-2003)


Recent Presentations:

PaRDeS in Nineteenth-Century German-Jewish Biblical Commentaries: A Phenomenological Introduction,” Association for Jewish Studies, Boston, MA. December 15, 2013.

“Modeling a Jewish Exegetical Imagination: Nineteenth-Century Peshat and Heinrich Graetz’s Commentaries on Kohelet and Song of Songs,”Workshop: “Jewish Reception of Josephus in the 18th and 19th Centuries in Western Europe,” Faculty of Oriental Studies and Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Oxford, UK. June 2013.

“The Temple Cultus and 19th-Century German Jewish Biblical Exegesis: Salomon Herxheimer and Ludwig Philippson on the Psalms,” Association for Jewish Studies, Chicago, IL. December 18, 2012.


Research Interests: German-Jewish intellectual history, 19th-century German history, history of scriptural hermeneutics, Jewish-Christian intellectual relations


PhD Project: “Modeling the Temple: The Politics of German-Jewish Scriptural Hermeneutics”



Jews and Christians hotly debated the political, historical and philosophical significance of the ancient Israelite Temple throughout nineteenth-century Germany. Although many German Jews regularly articulated yearning for the Temple to be rebuilt and sacrifices reinstituted in weekly liturgy, for many, the reality of gathering in the Land of Israel, rebuilding the Temple and offering animal sacrifices seemed absurd in light of their religious, aesthetic and political sensibilities. This dissertation analyzes how German Jews negotiated their understanding of the tenets of Jewish thought and praxis given their commitments as nineteenth-century Germans by examining the various exegetical approaches to the Sanctuary and sacrifice in five exegetes’ highly influential commentaries: Rabbi Jacob Mecklenburg’s commentary to the Torah, Haketav vehakabblah (1839); Rabbi Dr. Salomon Herxheimer’s Die vier und zwanzig Bücher der Bibel im ebräischen Texte (1840-1848); Rabbi Dr. Ludwig Philippson’s commentary to the Tanakh, Die Israelitische Bibel (1839-1854); Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Der Pentateuch (1867-1878)and Die Psalmen (1882); and Dr. Heinrich Graetz’s Kohelet (1871), Schir ha-Schirim (1871)and Die Psalmen (1881-82).


In seven chapters – an introduction, one chapter per each of the five biblical commentators, and a conclusion – this dissertation aims at crafting a thick intellectual history of nineteenth-century German-Jewish biblical hermeneutics with its complex of cultural ramifications. To do so, the chapters detailing the commentaries present a brief biography of each exegete, a critical description of each exegete’s hermeneutic method, and an analysis of their interpretations of the Temple service and the historical context in which their interpretations were formulated.


Cultural ideals informed which sources an exegete brought to bear on the biblical text and each particular combination of sources produced an intertext that modulated possible registers in which scripture could signify, opening up certain hermeneutic possibilities and closing off others. This project analyzes the hermeneutic moves each scholar makes to weave their exegesis and orients their arguments in the contemporary exegetical, cultural and political context. Although each exegete’s hermeneutic is not reducible to their engagement of contemporary debates - such as arguments about the nature of religious worship, the politics of Jewish law, or evolutionary historiosophy - at every moment their exegesis registers within the historical milieu in which it was composed.


This dissertation engages the fields of German and German-Jewish intellectual history, modern Jewish thought, contemporary theories of sacred space and sacrifice, and the study of Jewish-Christian relations by illustrating the pervasive and manifold cultural significance of biblical hermeneutics throughout the nineteenth century; presenting the diversity and innovation within and across liberal, positive-historical, and neo-orthodox hermeneutics; introducing Mecklenburg, Herxheimer, Philippson, Hirsch and Graetz’s unique theoretical accounts of the Sanctuary and sacrificial service; and suggesting new ways of modeling Jewish-Christian intellectual relations as constituted through exegetical discourse.